I loved this book of short stories. Arimah has a really vivid way of telling a story, and her stories covered a wide range of issues and genres. The title story was one of the most interesting. The narrator is a mathematician in a future post-apocalyptic world where most of the continents are now underwater. Mathematicians who can understand a special scientific formula have unique powers, including the ability to absorb other people’s sorrow.
Arimah’s writing is beautiful, and I appreciated the variety across all of the stories. There are fables, horror, science fiction, and realistic stories about family relationships. There are stories in this book that are horrifying and fantastic, like “Who Will Greet You at Home?” about a woman who creates an infant for herself out of bundled-up hair, or “Second Chances” about a mother who comes back from the dead. At the same time, there are definitely recurring themes, like parenthood, abuse, and immigration. Many of the stories take place in Nigeria, or are set in America with characters who are Nigerian immigrants.
A lot of the stories deal with the suppression of girls’ identities. There’s a beautiful story called “Light” about a divorced father thinking about his daughter:
Before she grows cautious under the mothering of a woman who loves but cannot comprehend her. Before she quiets in a country that rewards her brand of boldness, in her black of body, with an incredulous fascination that makes her put it away. Before all that, she is eleven… (“Light”)
It’s interesting that the mother in this story is the source of the daughter’s oppression, at least in the father’s eyes. It made me think about how often mothers have to teacher their daughters to fit in, to be what’s expected. It’s an oversimplification maybe, but it was interesting that I read Katherine Arden’s The Girl in the Tower around the same time, and there was also a mother in that book who felt she had to suppress the exuberance, the spirit of her daughter. I thought about how in Arimah’s story, it may have seemed easy to this father to blame the mother, but he probably had no idea of the kind of oppression she herself probably endured.
This theme also shows up briefly in the myth-like “What is a Volcano?”
The girl will carry his secret, and when she is no longer a girl, she will give it to another girl, and this sorrow stone will be stolen away in uniform pockets and hidden under the pillows of marriage beds, secreted in diaries, guarded closely by the type of girls who, above all else, obey. (“What is a Volcano?”)
Arimah’s stories are written in a quietly powerful way; and each is thoughtful and moving. There were no misses in this book, although of course some stories were stronger than others. Overall, this book of short stories hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention as it deserves.